A Millennial’s Letter to Financial Services Industry

3p Contributor | Monday August 11th, 2014 | 1 Comment

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in “The Millennials Perspective” issue of Green Money Journal.Click here to view more posts in this series.

Liesel Pritzker Simmons__PicBy Liesel Pritzker Simmons

As a millennial, I have recently noticed a flurry of studies, articles, and reports about my generation, authored by a diverse range of interested parties. Quite a bit of the pure sociological data suggests that the 80 million of us born between 1980 and 2000 are narcissistic, lazy, and optimistic to the point of being delusional – it’s enough to make me want to delete that selfie!

Interestingly, the selfish characteristics so rampant in the sociological studies seem to dissipate when researchers start looking at how we millennials spend our time and money. We want our work to have meaning for ourselves and the world, and we place a higher value on consumer goods that have some sort of beneficial social or environmental impact. Climate change is not a debate for us, and we probably still nag our parents about separating the trash from the recycling. Although we are generally more conservative in our investment decisions than previous generations (can you blame us?), we are willing to take on more financial risk if it increases exposure to ESG impact. Impact Assets recently authored this excellent Issue Brief outlining many of the attitudes of millennial investors.

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Keeping the Pulse of the Planet: Using Big Data to Monitor Our Environment

3p Contributor | Monday August 11th, 2014 | 0 Comments

4418890829_c11bc2319e_zBy Neno Duplan

Big data has become a major buzzword in tech these days; the ability to gather, store and aggregate information about individuals has exploded in the last few years. Businesses are harnessing that data to understand consumer behavior at unprecedented levels. Meanwhile, consumer advocates worry about big data’s power to aggregate our information, and that the access to our information, movements, purchases, availability, even your Wednesday-night route home from work, can be tracked, stored very cheaply and sold to other companies. Yet with all of this tracking and gathering of data about our activities, and the subsequent concerns over privacy, most of us do little to resist the tide of monitoring.

Modern humans have become major data junkies. We are complicit in this cycle with our online activity and mobile use and have been for years. We create meticulously cultivated personal radio stations in music apps; we enter our food intake and exercise in weight-loss apps; and we record late-night feedings of infants in breastfeeding apps. We wear monitoring devices — voluntarily — to gather data about ourselves even when we sleep. We even have them for our dogs!

These activity trackers or digital monitors typically combine a wearable device with a website or smartphone app to view data collected about your movements and habits. The goal is to measure not only your steps from the parking lot to your desk, but also your sedentary downtime at work or in front of a television, bursts of intense exercise and even your sleep habits — all to create a complete picture of your most and least healthful behaviors. Some models also offer tips and set goals based on your data. The devices send all the data about your movements back to a Web-based tracking program, which displays your every move and calories burned on the sort of precise charts and graphs that economists use to monitor recessions. The idea behind having this complete picture of your activity is to spur you into action to change unhealthy habits and make better choices for your body.

How fit is the planet?

There is an opportunity for us to use this same insatiable desire to collect data for another good: environmental monitoring. Similar devices, equipped with environmental monitoring sensors such as temperature, carbon, or chemicals in the air or water can give us unprecedented information about a location’s, region’s or the planet’s overall health. In the event of an environmental disaster like a major spill, nuclear accident or volcanic eruption, we could have an instant characterization of short- and long-term impacts of that disaster on its surroundings.

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Kimberly-Clark Releases Sustainability Report

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Monday August 11th, 2014 | 2 Comments

ScottKimberly-Clark is a big company with well-known brands like Scott, Depends and Huggies. It has also made some real strides in sustainability, as its latest annual sustainability report shows.

The company achieved a 26.4 percent reduction in water use in manufacturing in 2013, beating its 2015 goal of 25 percent. The report attributes the reduction to a more efficient manufacturing footprint, water conservation programs, and upgraded water and wastewater systems.

All totaled, Kimberly-Clark completed six major water reduction projects last year. For example, it made upgrades to the wastewater system at its Northfleet Mill that allows more than half of the wastewater to be recycled and reused.

When it comes to sourcing, Kimberly-Clark has also set lofty goals. The target is to source 100 percent of its wood fiber from suppliers who have achieved third-party certification of their forestry activities by 2015. Clearly, the company can meet those lofty goals as it met its target in 2012. A 2016 target is to achieve 100 percent chain of custody certification. All of the Kimberly-Clark tissue mills in North America and Europe are already chain of custody certified, along with about 50 percent of its mills in other regions. By 2025, the company plans to source 90 percent of the fiber in its tissue products from environmentally-preferred sources, including Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified wood fiber, recycled fiber and sustainable alternative fibers. It has already sourced 71.7 percent from environmentally preferred sources.

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3p Weekend: 10 Companies That Stand for LGBT Equality

Mary Mazzoni
| Friday August 8th, 2014 | 1 Comment

8301983320_c566b44e3f_z With a busy week behind you and the weekend within reach, there’s no shame in taking things a bit easy on Friday afternoon. With this in mind, every Friday TriplePundit will give you a fun, easy read on a topic you care about. So, take a break from those endless email threads, and spend five minutes catching up on the latest trends in sustainability and business.

As marriage equality legislation makes its way through courtrooms across the country, it’s clear that equality will soon be the norm rather than the exception. While some companies still hang on walls of shame across the blogosphere for their persistent opposition to LGBT equality, an ever-growing list of forward-thinking firms are turning up the volume in their support for diversity.

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S&P Acknowledges Role of Income Inequality in Downturn

RP Siegel | Friday August 8th, 2014 | 3 Comments

BalanceThere has been a well-documented trend over the past 50 years to tweak the rules of the economic game to favor those at the top. The movement has been called “trickle-down economics,” among other things. Though it was mostly perpetuated by greed, it was consistently justified as being good medicine for the economy, even if it tasted bitter to those at the bottom, or even to those in the middle who found themselves drifting in that direction.

Now, a new report, issued by mainstream economic authority Standard & Poor’s (S&P), acknowledges, perhaps for the first time, that the extreme level of income inequality in this country is actually hurting the economy. In fact, the revered oracle has actually cut its forecast for economic growth (from 2.8 percent to 2.5 percent) based on these conditions.

The rationale behind this is simple. Consumer spending is responsible for 70 percent of GDP. Poor people don’t have much to spend, but they tend to spend every bit of it. Wealthy people tend to spend a smaller proportion of their incomes. So, as more and more wealth is concentrated in the hands of the very rich, less of it is circulated through the economy. That’s exactly what has been happening. Between 2009-2010, for example, income growth of the top 1 percent was 15 times higher than everyone else. Setting policy that gives those at the bottom more, by adjusting tax rates or increasing wages, will provide more direct benefit to the overall economy than piling ever more into the bulging bank accounts of those at the top.

This has been the subject of some controversy, with those in the investment community claiming that investment, not consumer spending, is the major driver. That idea is now being debunked by S&P, which acknowledges that “changes in federal tax policy over the years has exacerbated inequality, as tax rates for top earners have fallen faster than rates for average Americans.”

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Tax-Advantaged U.S. Oil and Gas Companies Reap Huge Gains

| Friday August 8th, 2014 | 2 Comments

OilPump Akin to health care, U.S. tax policy is one of those perennial, politically divisive issues that everyone seems to agree needs reform, but change is never forthcoming. President Barack Obama’s efforts to get U.S. corporations to repatriate the huge sums of money they hold in offshore banks and tax havens by invoking economic patriotism has been met by the by-now traditional blowback from self-professed “free market” neoconservatives and “pro-business” interests.

Avoiding U.S. taxes, American multinationals have stashed some $1.95 trillion in offshore banks, a year-over-year increase of 11.8 percent from 2013, according to a Bloomberg News study. Despite claims to the contrary, data from the U.S. Federal Reserve show that the effective U.S. corporate tax rate has been declining almost continuously since the early 1950s. Furthermore, while the share of federal revenue paid in by individual U.S. citizens in taxes is now approaching 50 percent, that for U.S. corporations has dropped to around 12 percent.

U.S. corporate tax policy, moreover, is at odds with broadly beneficial goals being pursued by the Obama administration, state governments, businesses, communities and individuals across the U.S., such as the drive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and foster the transition to cleaner, sustainable energy resources. Besides continuing to be heavily subsidized, the U.S. oil and gas industry reaps huge gains from tax advantages unavailable to other types of businesses, according to a study from Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS).

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Beijing to Phase Out Coal

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Friday August 8th, 2014 | 1 Comment

Beijing_smog_comparison_August_2005Local authorities in Beijing announced that the city will ban coal sales and use by 2020 to reduce air pollution, Xinhua News Agency reports.

Six Beijing districts will stop using coal and will close coal-fired power plants by 2020. Coal use is expected to drop to less than 10 percent by 2017. Other fossil fuels, including fuel oil, will also be banned.

Coal burning accounts for 22.4 percent of Beijing’s PM 2.5, small airborne particles that contribute to smog. Coal use also accounted for 25.4 percent of Beijing’s energy use in 2012.

The main driver for coal reduction is air pollution, which is notoriously bad in Beijing. Back in February the Guardian reported that Beijing spent a week “blanketed in a dense pea-soup smog.” Beijing’s concentration of PM 2.5 particles rose to 505 micrograms, far above the 25 micrograms the World Health Organization recommends as a safe level.

In 2013, 92 percent of Chinese cities didn’t meet national ambient air quality standards, and coal burning is responsible for almost half of China’s overall PM 2.5 pollution.

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Coca-Cola to Invest $5B in Sustainable Development Across Africa

Leon Kaye | Friday August 8th, 2014 | 0 Comments
Coca-Cola, Africa, sustainable development, beverage companies, Leon Kaye, safe water, supply chain, Replenish Africa Initiative

Coca-Cola promises more programs in Africa, from women’s empowerment to safe water access

Africa is the last frontier for global investment, and beverage companies in particular are moving in quickly. One of them is Coca-Cola, which has long used its distribution network to help deliver medical supplies in countries such as Ghana and Tanzania. Now the company promises to invest an additional US$5 billion in sustainable development projects through the end of this decade.

By several estimates Africa has six or seven of the world’s 10 fastest growing economics, so Coca-Cola’s focus on the continent should not be surprising. Its largest competitor, PepsiCo, has also ramped up investment in Africa, and brewing companies also have their sights on Africa due to its growing middle class and untapped marketing potential. Before these purveyors of fizzy drinks and beer can entrench themselves in these markets, however, much work needs to be done.

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REC Tracking Systems: A Cost-Effective Means of Clean Power Plan Compliance

| Friday August 8th, 2014 | 2 Comments

stock-footage-the-bruce-mansfield-power-station-a-coal-fired-power-station-owned-and-operated-by-firstenergy-on The Obama administration Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan gives states broad leeway in meeting a national target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from existing coal-fired power plants 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. One pathway is to bring more renewable energy generation capacity online.

Businesses instinctively deride stricter environmental regulations, claiming that the additional costs of regulatory compliance will constrain economic growth, raise prices for consumers and reduce their competitiveness. As numerous studies have shown, that’s the case only if businesses limit the scope of the analysis by excluding the costs to human health and ecosystems as encapsulated in broader economic sustainability metrics such as natural capital accounting, as well as by ignoring economic and job growth in other sectors that can capitalize on the new regulations.

Moreover, as highlighted in a report from the Center for Resource Solutions (CRS) and the Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP), a tracking and reporting mechanism that’s already in wide use can provide a cost-effective means for U.S. states to help assure compliance with the Clean Power Plan: the information systems used to track and report on renewable and solar renewable energy certificates (RECs and SRECs).

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Why Buying Local and Organic Won’t Always Affect Our Environmental Footprint

3p Contributor | Friday August 8th, 2014 | 1 Comment

1570987795_4dc284e867_zBy Natalie Hase

Whether we like it or not, most of us are strongly bound to the agricultural sector, and we feel the responsibility to make the right choice from an environmental perspective. Nevertheless, it can be confusing standing in the supermarket in front of a sea of products, and consumers immediately go for the “greener choice,” that being local or organic.

We’ve gotten better at knowing where our food comes from – but can we claim the same for the environmental impact of our food choices?

According to Elin Röös, researcher at the Swedish University of Agriculture and co-author of the report “Organic production and climate change,” greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change mainly derive during the agricultural production phase, rather than by transportation of the products.

Natural processes are the main drivers to the sources of these emissions. Therefore, choosing organic and local over conventional products will have little effect on decreasing the main greenhouse gas emissions coming from the food that we eat.

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Preparing the Next Generation for Ethical and Safe Online Engagement

Sherrell Dorsey
| Thursday August 7th, 2014 | 1 Comment

teens-onlineThe Internet has arguably taken over our lives. In as little as 25 years, the magnitude of its impact and influence on the way our society interacts with technology, money, people and businesses is astonishing to say the least.

A Pew Research study released earlier this year reveals that more than 87 percent of American adults use some form of the Internet, whether through email, their mobile device or directly from their computers. Children aren’t trailing too far behind these statistics, and it won’t be long before they’re outwitting us in the digital space.

If we thought that we were a generation of highly-adept, technologically-savvy Internet-dominating adults, think again.

Increasingly, children are becoming the top purveyors of new media. Common Sense Media‘s fall 2013 report, Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America, found that more than half (52 percent) of children ages 0 to 8 now have access to newer mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, and 53 percent of 2- to 4-year-olds have used a computer.

Forty-seven percent of American teenagers are reported to own a smartphone that often serves as a primary Internet access point across socioeconomic status.

With the omnipresence of the Internet, parents must be increasingly aware and armed with the tools to keep their children safe online.

I spoke with Rebecca Randall, vice president of education programs at Common Sense Media — a partner of Symantec security systems — to get her thoughts and tips on how parents can prepare and protect their digitally-connected kids.

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Coal Companies Accused of Shortchanging Taxpayers on Export Royalties

RP Siegel | Thursday August 7th, 2014 | 2 Comments

Coal shipIt may come as a surprise to learn that much of the coal that is mined in this country is mined under lease arrangement on federal land. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) maintains coal leases, primarily in the West, on 570 million acres of land. If that sounds like a lot, it is. That constitutes an area larger than Alaska, California and Georgia combined, or about a quarter of the entire country

That includes, among other things, most of the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana, which currently supplies 40 percent of all the coal produced in this country. Because this land belongs to the American people, its commercial uses should be generating revenue to help offset taxes, in the form of rents and royalties.

It does indeed do so, though some have questioned whether the amounts collected represent the true market value of the coal, or if, in fact, artificially low prices are not only depriving the American people of fair revenues, but also encouraging more coal mining and coal burning than might otherwise occur if the coal were priced fairly.

A report produced by Sightline Institute, entitled Unfair Market Value, alleges that the BLM does not include the substantial markup that coal companies receive when they sell coal overseas, in assessing the value upon which royalties are based. This, they claim, leads to millions of dollars of lost taxpayer revenue each year.

Even as the U.S. is moving away from coal, both in response to the increased availability of domestic natural gas, as well as the call to reduce carbon emissions, exports of coal, particularly Western, coal have soared from 7.6 million tons per year during 2006-2009, to 19 million tons per year in 2010-2012.

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Right Action: Blocking a Dam in Cambodia’s Sacred Forest

Michael Kourabas
| Thursday August 7th, 2014 | 0 Comments
A buddhist monk rests in Sra Damrei, a peaceful spot in the Phnom Kulen mountain where the monks have been coming to meditate for centuries. Groups of monks have traveled miles to

A buddhist monk rests in Sra Damrei, a peaceful spot in the Phnom Kulen mountain where monks have been coming to meditate for centuries. In recent weeks, groups of monks have traveled miles to the Cheay Areng region to help save the endangered forest from Sinohydro’s proposed dam.

In another example of the collateral damage caused by the relentless march of economic development, a sacred Cambodian forest and its residents are fighting for their very survival against the Cambodian government and the largest hydropower company in China.

The fight is over a hydroelectric dam being planned for the Cheay Areng region at the base of Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains, just one piece of a larger government plan to build a network of 17 dams across the country.  Four have been built already, all in supposedly unoccupied forests.  This project, however, is different, as the valley is home to more than 1,600 mainly indigenous people.  If the dam were completed, almost 2,000 hectares of land belonging to the indigenous Khmer Daeum would flood, a territory which includes 500 hectares of sacred land in the Central Cardamom Protected Forest.

The Areng dam project has been fraught from the beginning.  The first company on the project, China Southern Power Grid, pulled out due to environmental concerns; next up was China Guodian Corp., which abandoned the project citing questions about its economic viability.  Sinohydro, China’s largest hydropower company and the world’s biggest dam producer, took over from there but has thus far been stymied by protests from the local Chong people and some Buddhists from Cambodia’s capital.

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VW Covers Sustainability Bases with Ultra Low-Carbon e-Golf

| Thursday August 7th, 2014 | 2 Comments
Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

The most complete elaboration yet of Volkswagen‘s (VW) vision of low-carbon e-mobility comes in the form of the new e-Golf, which is due to arrive at participating Volkswagen of America dealer showrooms in select U.S. states later this year.

In addition to the 2015 e-Golf’s zero tailpipe emissions, VW of America struck up a partnership with 3Degrees to purchase carbon offset credits in California and around the U.S. to offset greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with its production and distribution, as well as those from battery charging for up to 36,000 miles of driving.

VW also announced it is partnering with U.S. solar PV manufacturer SunPower to offer e-Golf owners “premier access” to SunPower’s upcoming home solar energy storage solution. Rounding out the e-mobility package, VW chose Bosch Automotive Service Solutions as its preferred home EV charging and installation services provider, while ChargePoint was chosen to provide EV charging stations to the VW U.S. dealer network and to provide e-Golf owners in the U.S. access to over 18,000 charging stations across the country.

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Vacation Equality Project Seeks Mandated Leave for Americans

Leon Kaye | Thursday August 7th, 2014 | 0 Comments
Hotels.com, vacation equality project, mandated vacation days, Leon Kaye, human resources, paid vacation, employee engagement

Let’s hit the beach — if we have paid vacay time.

Vacation may seem as American as apple pie, especially the places on offer that range from the Poconos, to Yosemite, to Yellowstone, to Florida’s beaches. But at the same time, most Americans score only 10 days of vacation time a year. And for about 25 percent of working Americans, they have no vacation days at all. In fact, America is one of the few industrialized countries that does not guarantee vacation days by law. Hotels.com is trying to change that with the Vacation Equality Project.

The statistics, indeed, are daunting. France, of course, stands out with workers entitled to 30 days under law. The number is the same for the United Arab Emirates (plus 60 days of paid sick leave!). Other European nations, including Germany and Italy, require 20 days under their respective employment laws. Even Japan, with its work culture notorious for long hours and commutes, requires that workers have at least 10 days of annual leave.

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